Rogue One: A Star Wars Story finally debuted in Chinese theaters on Friday after a three-week head start nearly everywhere else in the world. The huge global success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was expected to carry over with Rogue One, the first standalone movie in the history of the Star Wars franchise. While Disney’s risks have largely paid off in terms of commercial and critical success, it remained to be seen how it would perform in China.
Rogue One had the benefit of featuring two Chinese actors, Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang, playing key members of the rebel team, Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus. Both have built-in fanbases in their native country, which was expected to ultimately help Rogue One’s Chinese box office totals. However, the initial numbers for Rogue One’s opening weekend in China are well short of those for The Force Awakens around the same time a year ago.
Variety reported on Saturday that Rogue One opened with a “decent” $10.4 million in China between its Thursday and Friday premiere showings. That total was still good enough to dominate the Chinese box office and ticketing data estimates that Rogue One sold 60 percent of all tickets in China, but its total is still down significantly from The Force Awakens’ $27.8 million when it debuted on Jan. 9, 2016. Rogue One is on pace to fall well short of The Force Awakens’ $53.2 million opening weekend in China.
There are a number of ancillary factors that could be affecting Rogue One’s sharp downturn at the Chinese box office in comparison to The Force Awakens, according to Variety. The entire Chinese box office dropped off in May of 2016. Variety speculates that Chinese audiences may be “jaded by last years content” since the arrival of The Force Awakens – and that “heavy smog blanketing parts of the country” may be contributing to the country’s decline in theater attendance, despite having 30 percent more theaters in operation now than at the same time a year ago.
Despite the relative disappointment of Rogue One’s box office drop-off in China, the movie is far from a letdown in terms of its overall box office numbers. It’s on pace to surpass $1 billion worldwide in the coming weeks, including over $437 million in international box offices. It has earned over $66 million to-date in the United Kingdom, as well as over $25 million each in Australia, France, Germany, and Japan. Rogue One is now the second-most successful Star Wars movie at the U.S. box office, so if anything, the disappointment in China is an isolated issue.
Although Rogue One will ultimately be a massive box office success worldwide, its relative lack of success in Chinese theaters compared to The Force Awakens illustrates the reality that Star Wars simply isn’t as popular of a franchise in China as it is in the U.S. and Europe. According to Variety, reps for Disney said that promotion for The Force Awakens required added effort in China due to the franchise’s long hiatus from theaters in the country. But in the end, the letdown in China is by no means a reflection of the overall success of Rogue One or its place in the Star Wars franchise.